How Jena Got Her Belly Button Back

belly_dancer2It’s 4:30 in the morning and I’m drinking coffee. I woke up half hour ago with Aviva’s elbow in my neck. Our queen-sized bed reminded me of a breathing machine – all four of us, in and out, like one body. I got up to pee and then realized I needed pain meds, which meant eating food in order to not throw up. So here I am downstairs. The English muffin and orange juice went down pretty easy, and the percocet is starting to kick back in.

We turned the heat on yesterday for the first time this fall. Just had to take the edge off the chill in the house, but I tell you – I am so reluctant to do it. Mostly because of the gas bill rising steadily before our eyes for the next 4-6 months, but also because it makes it so official. It ain’t warm outside.

I will never forget the night this hernia appeared. It was in 2002, somewhere early in my second trimester. We were just going to bed, when very suddenly I felt this hard, pokey thing in my belly button. And it hurt! Never having been pregnant before, I had no idea what to expect or what it could be. I remember kind of freaking out, and saying to Greg, “Could it be the baby?!?!” I thought maybe it was a teeny-tiny little fetus elbow or something. But lo and behold, as I learned the next day at the doctor’s office, it was my very own hernia.

It didn’t bother me much. By October of that year, my belly was stretched so taut that the only bumps and lumps were the baby, her butt pressed up under my ribs, her elbows now for sure moving so visibly across the inside of my body. In fact, I think I forgot all about that little hernia. I had bigger fish to fry, babies to birth.

After Aviva came, I went back to my pre-pregnancy weight like magic and don’t remember the hernia much at all.

Then came Pearl.

A friend once told me that with her second pregnancy, she started showing at… conception. That pretty much summed things up in my case; my belly popped out within weeks of Greg’s birthday or thereabouts, which is when Pearlie was conceived. (We call her the NOLS baby sometimes, in light of the fact that she was conceived about 10 days after Greg returned from almost six weeks in Wyoming). Along with the belly, the hernia.

At this point, I’m wondering why I am writing about this and why you are reading it. The story of a hernia? Not the most riveting material. But as I sit here post-surgery, the surgery I put off for the last five or so years, I can’t help it. I’ve been missing writing the past week or so – between Greg getting back from a profound five days in the wilderness, Yom Kippur, clients and kids, I haven’t had a chance to check in with myself in this way. I’ve had that funny sensation of not knowing what I want to write about. And then, lying in bed two nights ago anticipating our early departure for Fanny Allen Hospital, a little voice said, Write about the hernia. So I’m just being obedient and figuring writing about the hernia is good enough.

So where was I? Forgive my spaciness; this is my first-ever blog post written on narcotics, which I think are kicking in. Oh yes, Pearl came. That’s a whole ‘nother story. A very different pregnancy than the first (not the least bit surprising, but kind of shocking at the time). A very different labor. A very different baby. But the very same hernia. This time it was back, and it was here to stay. Over the past three and a half years, it has gotten bigger, this funny protrusion at the top of my belly button, like a hoodie. Well, not exactly – more like a little bulge that I would sometimes have to push back in. It wasn’t usually painful, but did become increasingly annoying – and evidently larger – to the point this past summer when finally my OB said, “Jena, you really have to deal.”

The first surgery I scheduled was for September 2 – the day after the first day of school for Aviva. What was I thinking?! I must have known it was crazy, because I called my mom right after that visit to the surgeon’s office and she talked some sense into me. So October 1 it would be, and now, was. All done.

We dropped the girls off yesterday morning at 6:30 at our neighbors’ house, where they excitedly greeted their friends and raced to eat chocolate-chip pancakes in front of a Strawberry Shortcake movie before all going to school together. Then we drove out to the hospital. I made a bad hernia joke (“If I have a hernia,” I said to Greg, “would you have a hisnia?”). We sat in the waiting room looking at the Catholic crossword together, went through the checking-in motions, got plastic bracelets around my wrist, changed into a gown tied in the back and those funny no-skid socks they give you. Greg stayed for a while and then had to leave for work, at which point Nurse Rick successfully found a “little-old-lady” vein on the top of my left hand, where he inserted an IV. Mind you, I have never had an IV. Except for a root canal, I’ve never had anything. Natural childbirth is simply in its own category, and in my case, for as intense and insane and even “painful” as it was, there were no tubes or noodles – oops, I mean needles – no drugs, no monitors, no scalpels or stitches.

I had to sit there with the IV in my hand for about an hour before the surgery. I flipped once through 107 TV channels, then turned it off and tried to focus on breathing and relaxing, which I did not find easy to do AT ALL. I thought of Gail. I thought of my friend who has had three c-sections. I thought of two friends who’ve had ovarian cysts removed – one of whom wound up having an unexpected radical hysterectomy. I thought of my friend who is an abortion provider. I thought of the little boy behind the curtain next to mine, how brave he was being. I thought of how tender and compassionate I would be feeling if it were one of my kids lying there instead of me. In other words, I was intent on keeping this thing in perspective. Umbilical hernia repair is literally about the most minor surgery in the book.

And then I thought of the most important thing of all: Aviva didn’t have a bagged lunch for her class field trip to Shelburne Farms! Oy. I called for Nurse Rick and he gave me the phone, and I tried several phone numbers by heart before finally reaching her school. At this point, the surgeon was there, asking me if I had any questions, and I was blathering to him something about hot lunch. He clearly had no idea what I was talking about. Probably thought they started drugging me up early for some reason. I laughed out loud at how perfect and true it seemed, to be doing this mama thing right up until the minute they rolled me out of there into the operating room.

And that’s all I remember. I woke up in post-op an hour and a half later, motrin dripping into my IV, unable to sit up or even turn on my side. The nurses were all lovely. Aren’t nurses lovely? What a magnificent profession. The anesthesiologist came to check on me. I ate an english muffin and some cranberry juice. Greg came back. I didn’t feel rushed although it was clear that the sooner we could empty the bed for the next guy, the better. Finally, I was able to sit up and get dressed. Greg left again to fill my prescription at the pharmacy next door. I took my first percocet, got hot and sweaty and nauseous, and promptly threw up four times in a pink plastic bin. Greg came back, wheeled me to the car, and tucked me in on the couch when we got home, where I spent the rest of the day eating prunes and dreaming about snowstorms and earthquakes.

Around 4:30, he went to pick up the girls from their respective places. When they got home, they were very excited to see me and especially my bandage. I made the mistake of very quickly telling them that I would probably not be able to snuggle upstairs with them at bedtime; Aviva burst into tears and proceeded to scream and cry for about twenty minutes. It must have been weird for them, seeing me laid up like this. Talk about perspective; I am usually here, there, and everywhere, doing twelve things at once. Isn’t it true, the whole “health is wealth” thing? How miraculous it is that we get up every morning and go through a thousand motions in the first ten minutes, most of them unconsciously? Maybe it is one of the gifts of having a procedure like this one. I remember after childbirth, too, being amazed to realize how much abdominal strength it takes just to stand up and walk around the block.

Greg made dinner, which we ate picnic-style in the living room in front of a movie. Around 6:00pm, another neighbor brought over homemade chicken noodle soup, which tasted like the nectar of the gods. Pearl was filled with questions about what I can and can’t do now (“Can you push a stroller? Can you walk on the sidewalk?”). Aviva was extra helpful once we told her she could start out at bedtime on the couch in my study; she was even willing to run upstairs twice for me to get me a shirt that didn’t smell like hospital.

So here I am. Me and the cat and the coffee and the bandage, which I have to leave on for another 24 hours. I am so grateful for health. For a strong body. For neighbors whose house is a second home to our kids, others who make soup and offer meals. For the phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages that kept rolling in last night, friends and sisters checking in. Most of all, I’m glad to have it over with. It may be up to six weeks before I get my groove back, but at least I got my belly button.

(Now if only it looked like the one in the picture!)

18 thoughts on “How Jena Got Her Belly Button Back

  1. Laurie says:

    Good morning, Jena.
    Glad you are on the other side of this! Even a simple surgery is a very big deal. I enjoyed the read this morning with my coffee.
    Heal on! Enjoy the strength and wisdom of your body.


  2. Kate Smith says:

    Jena, You are so brave to go through surgery, even if it didn’t feel like a choice. I have often thought about having to do similar with much fear. So later on, when I need my own surgery for whatever it may be… my hour laying in the hospital bed will be spent thinking about how you got through your surgery. I, however, would prefer my IV in my forearm. Hand does not sound appetizing and I’ve had IVs in my arm before.


  3. GailNHB says:

    You are a great writer – even on drugs. Rock on, girl.

    Take it slow and easy and let your dear hubby cook for you for as long as you can milk it!!!

    Seriously, peace and rest and hot tea be yours, dear Jena.


  4. Lisa says:

    I just wandered over here from Karen Maezen-Miller’s blog (from your lovely guest post) and found this post after wandering through several others of yours.

    I love it! First, congrats (I’d guess & hope you are well healed by now). Second, thank you so much for sharing the story. I, too, am at the 2-kids belly-button gone hernia stage and deciding what to do. The agony! I laughed at Karen’s comment…yep, I want the hernia surgery and tummy tuck too. :)

    Thanks for the honesty & the strength.



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